Some animals must endure prolonged periods of oxygen deprivation to survive. One such extreme model is the northern crayfish (Orconectes virilis), that regularly survives year-round hypoxic and anoxic stresses in its warm stagnant summer waters and in its cold, ice-locked winter waters. To elucidate the molecular underpinnings of anoxia resistance in this natural model, we surveyed the expression profiles of 76 highly conserved microRNAs in crayfish hepatopancreas and tail muscle from normoxic, acute 2 h anoxia, and chronic 20 h anoxia exposures. MicroRNAs are known to regulate a diverse array of cellular functions required for environmental stress adaptations, and here we explored their role in anoxia tolerance. The tissue-specific anoxia responses observed herein, with 22 anoxia-responsive microRNAs in the hepatopancreas and only four in muscle, suggest that microRNAs facilitate a reprioritization of resources to preserve crucial organ functions. Bioinformatic microRNA target enrichment analysis predicted that the anoxia-downregulated microRNAs in hepatopancreas targeted Hippo signalling, suggesting that cell proliferation and apoptotic signalling are highly regulated in this liver-like organ during anoxia. Compellingly, miR-125-5p, miR-33-5p and miR-190-5p, all known to target the master regulator of oxygen deprivation responses HIF1 (hypoxia inducible factor-1), were anoxia downregulated in the hepatopancreas. The anoxia-increased transcript levels of the oxygen-dependent subunit HIF1α highlight a potential critical role for miRNA-HIF targeting in facilitating a successful anoxia response. Studying the cytoprotective mechanisms in place to protect against the challenges associated with surviving in oxygen-poor environments is critical to elucidating the vast and substantial role of microRNAs in the regulation of metabolism and stress in aquatic invertebrates.

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Journal of Experimental Biology
Department of Biology

English, S.G. (Simon G.), Hadj-Moussa, H. (Hanane), & Storey, K. (2018). MicroRNAs regulate survival in oxygen-deprived environments. Journal of Experimental Biology, 221. doi:10.1242/jeb.190579